Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Are the Chickens Coming Home to Roost?

Proverbs 1:2-7 (New Living Translation)

“2The purpose of these proverbs is to teach people wisdom and discipline, and to help them understand wise sayings. 3Through these proverbs, people will receive instruction in discipline, good conduct, and doing what is right, just, and fair. 4These proverbs will make the simpleminded clever. They will give knowledge and purpose to young people.
5Let those who are wise listen to these proverbs and become even wiser. And let those who understand receive guidance 6by exploring the depth of meaning in these proverbs, parables, wise sayings, and riddles.
7Fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge. Only fools despise wisdom and discipline.”

I read an essay in “Policy Review” by Stanley Kurtz, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, which had some interesting observations, but even more startling statistics. For example, there are these three concerning the rapidly aging populations in the developed west, declining birth rates, and some of the potential consequences of that new reality:

“We moderns have gotten used to the slow, seemingly inexorable dissolution of traditional social forms, the family prominent among them. Yet the ever-decreasing size of the family may soon expose a fundamental contradiction in modernity itself. Fertility rates have been falling throughout the industrialized world for more than 30 years, with implications that are only just now coming into view. Growing population has driven the economy, sustained the welfare state, and shaped modern culture. A declining population could conceivably put the dynamic of modernization into doubt.”

“Broadly speaking, both the free market and the welfare state assume continual population growth. “Pay as you go” entitlements require ever-larger new generations to finance the retirement of previous generations. Longman argues that economic growth itself depends upon ever-increasing numbers of consumers and workers.”

“Declining birth rates mean that societies everywhere will soon be aging to an unprecedented degree. Increasing life expectancy is also contributing to the aging of the world’s population. In 1900, American life expectancy at birth was 47 years. Today it is 76. By 2050, one out of five Americans will be over age 65, making the U.S. population as a whole markedly older than Florida’s population today. Striking as that demographic graying may be, it pales before projections for countries like Italy and Japan. The United Nations estimates that by 2050, 42 percent of all people in Italy and Japan will be aged 60 or older.”

“The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the combined cost of Medicare and Medicaid alone will consume a larger share of the nation’s income in 2050 than the entire federal budget does today. By 2050, the combined cost of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and interest on the national debt will rise to 47 percent of gross domestic product — more than double the level of expected federal revenues at the time. Without reform, all federal spending would eventually go to seniors.”

In the face of these ominous demographics, Kurtz asks the central question – “can societies that old sustain themselves?”

Nancy and I talked a bit about the essay and in one sense feel very fortunate. Unless we both live till we’re a hundred and eight we’ll have passed from the scene long before the “wise men” two generations from now try to solve this problem. But, like most people we know we have families, children and grandchildren to consider. What will all of this mean to them?

As we peered out into the future we saw that we will more than likely have the technology, science, and the political institutions to apply to the problem. But will we have the wisdom to apply the correct solutions? Based on our knowledge of our past and our present we have real concerns.

Wisdom should be the key, but I’m not sure that we’ll have the wisdom needed when the “chickens come home to roost.” I hope and pray we do, but I have serious doubts that we will. Why am I so pessimistic?

The signs seem very ominous to me. Wisdom is not only in short supply in our society, it is unwanted. Less than a generation ago, Bob Dylan put it this way:

“We live in a political world,
Wisdom is thrown into jail,
It rots in a cell, is misguided as hell,
Leaving no one to pick up the trail.”

How did we get ourselves into this mess? In the late fifties, sixties, and into the seventies, scientists, politicians, sages, clergymen, philosophers warned us about the dangers of a “population explosion” if the human race didn’t learn to control the growth of population. In a few generations we have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Thanks in good part to the work of the movers and shakers of our age and the United Nations programs like birth control and abortion have been introduced into the third world. Thanks to their blind eye programs like forced sterilization and euthanasia have become acceptable, normative practices.

I read Kurtz’s essay and realize that they have succeeded and now we have a huge problem on our hands.

Even more ominous to me is the climate afoot in our current generation. At a time when knowledge is exploding exponentially, the moral capacity to deal with this knowledge seems to be shrinking. Mark Edmundson, author of “Why Read,” made the following observation about the impact that this explosion is having on the generation we are now preparing in our colleges and universities to deal with the problems of the future:

“Instead of spending class time wondering what the poem means, and what application it has to present-day experience, students compile information about it. They set the poem in its historical and critical context, showing first how the poem is the product and property of the past – and implicitly, how it really has nothing to do with the present except as an artful curiosity – and second how, given the number of ideas about it already available, adding more thoughts would be superfluous.”

“By putting a world of facts at the end of a key-stroke, computers have made facts, their command and their manipulation, their ordering, central to what now can qualify as humanistic education. The result is to suspend reflection about the differences among wisdom, knowledge, and information. Everything that can be accessed online can seem equal to everything else, no datum more profound than any other. Thus the possibility presents itself that there really is no more wisdom; there is no more knowledge; there is only information. No thought is a challenge or an affront to what one currently believes.”

In other words, we have raised and are now educating a generation that, God forbid, will only know how to manipulate information when the need for wisdom arises. If we think the morality of the sixties till now have been on the decline, this generation may be the one that will most accurately fit the Apostle Paul’s observation – “Claiming to be wise, they became utter fools instead.”

As I think about the possibilities in the future only one word comes to find that gives me comfort – Maranatha!


David M. Smith said...


I think you have made some very astute observations. However, I don't share your pessimism. Maybe I tend to look at the glass as being half full, but I really do believe the pendulum is shifting back toward more wisdom. There are many parents, like myself, who have learned the lessons of the last thirty years and we are raising a new generation to value wisdom more than popular notions. My girls, at 8 and 5, are infinitely more aware, and I believe wise, than I was at their age. At some point in the future, dark times will come. We need to be aware when it happens, but we don't need to expect it in a way that keeps us from shining the light.

BTW, I love your blog.

Dr Mac said...

Phil... I am just an 'old' man, white hair, exuding all the signs of old age, including loss of memory (not only short term but intermittant long term and various other categories which I cannot recall at this time) but as I read the Word, I lean on such scriptures as Ps 111:10 where it shares that "Fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom." Possibly we need to consider putting God back into the picture rather than remove Him. I am convinced that God is a better source to give the answers of the future than all of the prognosticators combined.

Your blog is right on course. Keep up the good work.